HB11: Senate up next to hear firing squad bill


by Chris Larson
Capital West News

SALT LAKE CITY – The Utah Senate will now consider a bill that bill that would restore the firing squad as an option for capital punishment after the House passed the bill by a narrow 39-34 margin.

Rep. Paul Ray, R – Clearfield, HB11’s sponsor reminded House members that the firing squad was written into Utah law in up until 2004 that inmates had a choice between choice between  the firing squad and lethal injection. In 2004, the law made lethal injection Utah’s primary means of executing the death penalty.

“Back in 2004, we had no idea that some point in time that we would not have the drug cocktail available to carry out the death penalty,” Ray said. “This bill just goes one small step. The bill says if (the firing squad) is found unconstitutional or if we cannot get the drug cocktail, we revert back to the firing squad.”

Ray cited the botched executions of last year in Arizona, Oklahoma and Ohio as a major concern for Utah to have the option of the firing squad. He hopes that the federal government approves a new execution drug cocktail, but till that he sees this as necessary to

Rep. Steve Eliason, R – Sandy, said that he supports the bill because it plays into a bill he sponsored two years ago that allowed for inmates to donate their organs upon their execution.

“The only method of execution that is potentially available that would allow a prisoner to do that would be the firing squad,” Eliason said.

Rep. Sandra Hollins, D–Salt Lake City, said the death penalty disproportionately affects her community. Rollins is the first African American woman to be elected to the Utah House of Representatives and represents most of Salt Lake’s west side.  She also claims that the Supreme Court recognized racial, gender and socio-economic lines disparity in administration the death penalty.

“I understand that this bill does not abolish the death penalty,” Hollins said. “But I refuse to vote yes on a bill gives a tool to carry out the death penalty.”

Rep. Brian King, D – Salt Lake City, the proceeded to describe the procedure of a firing squad in vivid detail.

“For execution by this method, a condemned person is bound to a chair with tight straps across his waist and head in front of an oval shaped canvas wall and a hood is placed over his head.  The chair is surrounded by sandbags to absorb the inmate’s blood,” King said.

According to King, the six members of the firing squad would stand 20 feet from the person and one of the .30 caliber rifles to be used would have a blank round.

“The prisoner dies as a result of blood loss from the rupture of the heart or major blood vessel,” King said. “Let’s be clear about what we’re talking about. This is not just a conversation, Mr. Speaker, about different ways of the state putting people to death. As I said before, many would say that’s murdering someone. It is a matter of moral and fiscal responsibility.”

King continued to express his opposition to the death penalty on fiscal and moral grounds and saying the death penalty is not a deterrent to murder.

Rep. Stephen Handy, R–Layton, began to give his reasons why he opposed the death penalty by talking about his experience with his lawyer father. He only spoke for a few seconds before Rep. Mike Noel, R–Kanab, called Handy to order.

“I don’t believe this topic is germane to what we are talking about. We have the death penalty in Utah already. This is not the death penalty argument. That’s here already. Davis County would stick to the topic,” Noel said.

When the bill was put to its vote to pass it on to the Senate, the house speaker sent out the sergeant at arms to find legislators who were not present to influence the final vote. The vote stood at 34-34 for a long while before other legislators were located and other legislators changed their vote.

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